I wrote this story for the Erie Times-News. It originally appeared in Sunday, Oct. 1 Her Times section in the Erie Times-News. In the interest of reaching even more parents of kids with ADHD, I’m reposting here.
My daughter Lauren walked at 8 months. She potty-trained herself before she was 2 and rode a two-wheel bike before she went to Kindergarten. In fourth grade, she had the vocabulary of a college-age student and the grades of a high school dropout.
She would do her homework after hours of tearful fighting with us, then not turn it in. She frequently lost her stuff or couldn’t find it. She would spend her study hall writing a new language and fail her spelling test.
I just didn’t understand it, so I requested the school do an intelligence evaluation. This is a formal process in public schools that involves the school psychologist doing interviews with teachers and the child, as well as intelligence testing.
Ninety days later, I learned that, indeed, Lauren had a high IQ, but she also exhibited many of the classic signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I felt everything from relief to vindication to guilt and anxiety.
Two years later, I still feel vindicated, but I shed the guilt and anxiety long ago. I’ve come to believe that ADHD is not a disorder as much as it is a difference. It’s one that doesn’t fit well into our school system where children are expected to learn the same way, but there are ways to cope with that. Here are some things I’ve learned in the past year as Lauren transitioned from middle school to high school.
Give them some slack. When parenting a child with ADHD, it’s tempting to micromanage their lives, to constantly remind them of things, continually check their grades, email their teachers for updates, but by the time they are entering high school, it’s time to back off a bit so that he or she can learn to manage their own lives. If you are always there doing everything for them, you’re not helping, you’re handicapping.
Talk with teachers at the beginning of the year. I tell all of Lauren’s teachers at the beginning of the year that she is both smart and easily distracted and may require a seat up front and reminders to hand in (or do) her work.
Don’t overload them. Lauren has the IQ to be in all honors classes, but she lacks the discipline, organization, and patience for the additional homework, assignments, and projects that honors classes require. We settled for putting her in two honors classes in subjects she enjoys.
They live in a permanent present. Living in the moment and being in the now is all the rage for stressed out adults, but it is the perpetual state of being for those with ADHD. Lauren doesn’t think too much about the future, and she has trouble learning from past experience. It also means she struggles with transitions and never wants to stop whatever she is currently doing to do something else, even if it’s fun. Fair warnings (“We’re leaving in 1 hour”) and timers help.
Let them do it their way. Lauren doesn’t always do things the way that I would or the way I want them done. This means her closet is a mess, her backpack is overflowing with papers, and her self-packed lunches consist of a granola bar and applesauce. I’ve learned not to impose my system on her because her brain works differently than mine.
Know they may need help getting started. Those with ADHD are not good at ordination—planning and doing parts of a task in order—and may need help getting started or putting the steps in order, especially with big projects that span days, weeks, or months.
Don’t let them procrastinate. With Lauren, everything happens right now or not at all. She does not have a reliable sense of time, so later never arrives. This is one of our toughest challenges because, remember, those with ADHD don’t plan or transition to new tasks well. Not getting things done because she’s putting them off is the source of most of our arguments and the essence of ADHD.
Sports help channel energy. Lauren joined the Eastside YMCA swim team two years ago and it’s been a tremendous positive in her life. Kids with ADHD are probably better in a sport that is not team-focused such as diving, swimming, cross-country, track, or gymnastics.
Toddler rules apply. Everyone knows that toddlers are at their worst when they are tired or hungry. It’s the same for those with ADHD.
Take electronics at night, by any means necessary. This has become harder as Lauren gets older and acquires more electronic devices that she can hide from me and play until 2 a.m. But I recently won this war thanks to a smartphone app called TP Link Tether that allows me to control wifi access on every individual device in my home. At 9:30 p.m., I just deny access to all of her devices. No wifi = no Netflix or YouTube and adequate sleep for my girl.
Silence is golden. The slightest sound, such as the ticking of a clock, the clicking of computer keys, or the dog snoring down the hall, prevents those with ADHD from falling asleep. Their brains are constantly interrupted and aware of things that most of us don’t notice or easily tune out.
Mark everything they own. Lauren once lost a $30 winter hat in less than twenty-four hours. I haven’t seen her lunchbag or her winter coat in two years. I’ve learned to write her name on everything. It doesn’t prevent her from losing it, but it helps with recovery.
Set reminders as alarms in his or her cell phone. You can set as many alarms as you want in a cell phone and you can name them things like, “do your Spanish homework!” or “feed the cats.”
Hormones can wreak havoc. Take an already impulsive teenager with ADHD and add normal hormone fluctuations and you’ve got a recipe for major drama. Try not to let him or her drag you into it. Stay calm and don’t take it personally. Acting and speaking without thinking is the definition of impulsivity, a hallmark of those with ADHD.
Give them daily positive human contact. Kids with ADHD sometimes go through an entire day or week without an encouraging word. Because they are so disorganized and impulsive, they’re often corrected by teachers and ignored by classmates who find them annoying. A hug, a recognition of effort, or a little time to sit and listen to them goes a long way. See the good.
Take the long view. If there is one thing I have always known about Lauren, it’s that she will be successful at whatever it is she ultimately puts her mind to. The silver lining in ADHD is the ability to hyperfocus. When she’s in the zone, there’s no stopping her. She’s smart and capable and she will be successful at life, even if she gets a D in English and squeaks through Algebra with a low C.
She’s a thinker….get it?
Got a child with ADHD:
- Check out additudemag.com for lots of great articles and information about ADHD. Sign up for the e-news – it’s free!
- Start a parent’s support group. While no two kids with ADHD are alike, parents can learn a lot from each others’ experiences. (Invite me!)
- Your child is in good company. Visit http://psychcentral.com/lib.famous-people-with-adhd/ for an impressive list of accomplished people with ADHD
- Watch Dr. Edward Hallowell’s YouTube video in which he explains how ADHD is like having a “Ferrrari brain with bicycle brakes.” It explains ADHD perfectly.
The medication question
Every parent and child needs to make this decision for themselves. I was adamantly opposed to it at first. Then, I talked to some other parents who were candid with me about their experiences, and I changed my mind. Here’s why: I thought what if I’m denying my child access to something that can help her be successful because of my personal or moral convictions? Would I deny her insulin if she were diabetic?
If you do decide to try medication, you’ll need an official diagnosis before your doctor can prescribe anything. It’s common for most to try several different medications and dosages before finding one that works well for them. ADHD medication can be quite expensive, even with insurance.